What is passive-aggressive jealousy?
Most people struggle with jealousy sometimes. Sometimes, you want what other people have; other times, it’s because you’re afraid of losing someone. But most people don’t feel good about saying that outright, so it often manifests as passive-aggressive jealousy. And if someone else does it to you, it could leave you feeling stressed, guilty and confused.
But this is also an opportunity to learn what healthy communication looks like, through the example of what not to do. And by knowing how to respond to passive-aggressiveness, you can form healthier relationships and improve your confidence in yourself.
What passive-aggressive jealousy looks like
Backhanded compliments: These initially look like praise, but they feel insincere, and may have an unpleasant implication underneath. You don’t feel good after hearing them. Example: “Oh, I could never go out in such an outfit, but you’re so confident!”
Self-pity: When something good happens in your life, the other person makes you feel bad by putting themselves down. This can overlap with guilt-tripping. Example: “I’m excited to see my partner this weekend.” “You meet guys so easily. No one seems to want me.”
The silent treatment: The person ignores you, answers curtly or not at all. They don’t explain why they’re upset. Unlike normal quietness, the silent treatment draws attention to itself by refusing to engage.
Stubbornness and sabotage: A passive-aggressive person may make your life more difficult by becoming stubborn about something that seems trivial. Or they may do it “wrong” so that you have to go through extra trouble to fix it. This is a way of making you feel their frustration.
If someone close to you does these, you may find yourself feeling stressed out around them, guilty, and anxious. You may worry about whether you’re the unreasonable one for doing what you thought was normal behavior. At worst, passive-aggression can become a form of manipulation and abuse.
How to respond to it
The best way to respond to passive-aggressive jealousy depends on whether you want a close relationship with the person doing it.
For coworkers and acquaintances, your best bet is to ignore it. It may be uncomfortable, but if you haven’t done anything wrong, the other person’s frustration is not your problem. If they are a colleague, try to minimize contact with them. Keep communication strictly professional. You may have to ask your boss to help you work separately from them.
If this is someone you want to stay close to, ask them if they’re upset about something deeper. For instance: “I noticed you didn’t talk to me all weekend. Were you angry with me? Is this something we can work out?” Not everyone will open up, though.
The bottom line
Passive-aggressive people aren’t necessarily toxic or abusive. A well-meaning person may simply not know how to ask for what they want clearly. But sometimes it is part of a manipulative relationship pattern.
If you’re struggling with a passive-aggressive person in your life, or with passive-aggressive tendencies yourself, therapy can support your journey. I find that improving communication skills and boundaries is especially helpful for my clients who have these problems. Contact me if you are interested, or I can help you find suitable therapists near you.